Today we celebrate the release by Sony Pictures of “The Emoji Movie,” rated PG (for saucy language). Rush to see it before it sinks without a trace. One look at the animation’s trailer told me it’s everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. Okay, the characters look authentic and are well voiced by prominent actors, but finding Patrick Stewart reduced to playing a pile of poop was particularly depressing. Basically the entire film is a promo for the eponymous app plus others for Google, Facebook, YouTube and DropBox. It is meant for children, of course, but the the protagonist is pathetic and the plot is a downer. Critics were sad-faced, to say the least, with reactions ranging from to to . Writing for rogerebert.com, critic Peter Sobczynski ended his review with
“The Emoji Movie” may be as depressing of a film experience as anything to come out this year but if the [lack of positive] reaction of the kids that I saw it with is any indication, there may be hope for the future after all.
We can hope against hope. The very fact that an emoji movie exists alarms me, but that it’s propaganda for big Internet brands hardly comes as a surprise. I guess I should get used to seeing more of that.
It’s not as if I slept for ten years and just woke up, but somehow I totally missed World Emoji Day this month. Awards were given. The spire of the Empire State Building was lit up in Emoji Yellow (#FBD043, in case you wondered). Vendors released spiffy new ones in a virtual trade show.
However, I don’t believe that there is a World Emoji Day-specific emoji. That’s because, like currencies, the coinage of emoji (emojis?) is strictly controlled. By whom, you might ask? The Unicode Consortium, of course, which now has approved 2,666 standard emoji (leaving their rendered appearance up to teams of artists at the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook). Each one is assigned an official name and “unified ID,” for example U+1F746, the baby you see somewhere below.
Despite central control, simulacrums of the little joys just keep on coming, oozing out of sort of a black market run by app stores and entrepreneurs following the gold rush. (These ersatz icons look like emoji, but don’t quack like emoji and need apps to make them walk.) Who knew, for instance, that there are emojis of and by Kim, doled out by her $1.99 app? Many of the stickers (known as “kimojis,” which some call “Kartrashicons”) depict her anatomy, enabling you to stylishly decorate your texts. (supp -face?)
It is estimated that close to half of Instagram and Twitter posts contain or are mostly composed of emoji. Major brands feature them in TV and Internet ads, a practice pioneered by Walmart ™, from whom glyph-happy consumers can now purchase hundreds of emoji-themed items from bedclothes to plush toys to lunchboxes. All sorts of companies have them, and churning them out has become a major cottage industry.
Increasing laziness and diminishing attention spans of Internet users may be responsible for all this. Emoji are simpler to add to messages than emoticons (those cute sequences of characters, like ; – ) and > : / that fat and happy emoji are slowly eclipsing). And while hard-core netizens still use slackronyms like OMG, LOL, WTF, ROFL, IMHO, etc. as shorthand for emotive states, correct usage requires study and memorization because you can’t easily craft your own and expect to be understood. It’s so much easier to skim through a gallery of icons whose meanings are predetermined by Emoji Central and are cheerfully colored to boot.
And who knew that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been translated into modern hieroglyphics? Since 2013, a $200 color hardcover book called Emoji Dick (only $40 if you opt for the B&W softcover edition) has been up for sale. The weighty volume allegedly renders the complete text of Melville’s novel in interlinear emoji. As one enthusiastic reviewer put it, “That’s astoundingly useless.” Its producers crowdsourced funds to pay 800 home workers a nickle per symbol to translate Melville’s masterpiece line by line via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk piecework engine. And I’ve read reports that someone else is emojifying the Holy Bible. !
Now it’s easy to dismiss emoji frenzy as stupid and their incessant users as dingbats, to wit this woman, tweeting as (excuse my French) @Missie_cunt:
Packing a makeup bag for the hospital 💁🏼 I don’t wanna scare my little baby when he sees me for the first time 😂
Not to be to harsh, that tweet might have had a legitimate purpose, such as alerting her cat sitter. But let’s hope she didn’t come home with a Unified ID .
FYI BTW, the first emoji she used is called “Information Desk Person,” unified id 1F481. And I’ll bet she was able to pick it from an array of a hundred faces in less than five seconds. OTOH, she could have typed “FYI” even faster.
Still, there’s no doubt that emoji are time-savers. Deftly inserting them as comments into a text reduces the effort needed to compose it at the same time that it economizes on the thought process behind it. If you’re not quite sure what to say or how to say it, flip through your emojis to find something like it and move on. But then, hasn’t something been lost in the bargain, like nuance? Consider Emoji Dick. What are the emoji for, say, “surely,” “which,” “when,” “halcyon,” or “Ishmail” for that matter? On top of that, without emoji for punctuation marks, sentences rendered with emoji are phraseless and endless. Adjectives and adverbs have to be improvised. And don’t get me started on quotation marks. We’re back to grunting, but now at each other’s eyeballs.
And so, life moves on. To get a real-time view of all the fun emoji flying about, visit http://www.emojitracker.com, where you’ll find but one page, a huge grid of the thousand or so most popular emoji found on Twitter. It animates the display every time a tweet shows up that contains emoji, more or less once every 25 milliseconds. It looks like this, but with constant green flashes:
Warning: Prolonged exposure to that page can provoke dizziness and nausea. ⚠
Grumble as I may, I’ve come to accept the inevitable. Who knows, perhaps the emergence of emoji is a watershed moment in human communication that’s potentially capable of uniting preliterate and postliterate tribes into one big happy world of dingbats. A better world, one which future archeologists will puzzle over as they reconstruct rebuses and search for pyramids, wondering what caused it to fail.